Finding a new path | An accident that changed Charles Jerome Lyles’ life

Finding a new path | An accident that changed Charles Jerome Lyles’ life
Charles Lyles at work in 1970. (Photo/Credit: Charles J. Lyles’ collection)

By Char McCargo Bah 

Landing a track scholarship in the 1960s was almost inevitable for Charles Lyles until an accident ended his dream.

Born in 1945 at Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C., Lyles and his parents, Calvin Sr. and Mary Burke Lyles, lived at 316 Hopkins Court with his two siblings. They moved to 613 S. Saint Asaph St. in 1952 where they lived until his parents purchased a house in Prince George’s, Maryland.

While living in Maryland, Lyles attended Fairmont Heights High School, a segregated school for Black children in grades 7th through 12th. Lyles joined the track team where his coach noticed his incredible speed in the 100- yard dash.

Following his parents’ divorce, Lyles’ mother returned to Alexandria to be close to her job at Cameron Station and to be near the support of family and friends living in the area. Before Lyles left Fairmont, his coach promised him a track scholarship for college if he ever returned.

While living with his mother, Lyles entered Park- er-Gray School as a 9th grader and immediately joined the track team. The coach at his new school took notice of Lyles immediately. Parker-Gray was scheduled to close as a high school in 1965, so Lyles intended to return to Fairmont and pursue his dreams of a collegiate track scholarship.

Unfortunately, his life took an unexpected turn.

During a family hunting trip in Maryland, Lyles, who was an inexperienced hunter, accidentally shot himself in the left arm. Without the full use of both arms to build and maintain momentum during the 100-yard dash, Lyles was no longer able to achieve and maintain his exceptional speed. Dreams of a scholarship vanished.

After graduating in 1965, Lyles sought an opportunity to advance his life in another way. Because of his injured arm, he was unable to serve in the armed forces. Instead, he enlisted in the Job Corps to enhance his professional prospects. Through the Job Corps, Lyles was able to pursue a variety of classes.

His first educational opportunity was an eight-hour commercial art and fine painting class. Next came a three-year study program at the Corcoran School of Arts and Design in D.C. With his considerable arts and design training, he landed a job as an American history artist focusing on ethnic art with a private company.

In 1973, Lyles began work at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He served as an art director for the United States Customs. He transitioned to the Department of Justice and worked for the Drug and Enforcement Administration as an art director. While at the DEA, he enrolled in a computer graphics course at the Department of Commerce.

After completing the training, he introduced computer graphics to DEA, which garnered Lyles a promotion and an award for his efforts.

Until his retirement in 2015, he continued studying his craft while taking classes at Yale University. Lyles was the recipient of several awards, including the United States NAGC Blue Pencil Competition, where he won second place for a publication titled “Drugs of Abuse” in 1998 which was a distinction among submissions across the entire catalog of the federal government’s publications.

An unfortunate incident in Lyles’ life opened another door to him. He excelled in the commercial arts and was able to retire at the top of his field. The life of Lyles, who still lives in Alexandria, exemplifies why one should never give up – and also the value of education.

The writer is an author, independent historian, investigative/genealogist researcher and a Living Legend of Alexandria. Her blog is